CONTRASTING MODERNISMS - ARCHITECTURE OF HARBOUR CITIES GDYNIA AND ALTONA
The presentation of the exhibition “Architect Gustav Oelsner – Light, Air, Colour,”, which took place in Gdynia 1.04-29.05.2011, showed the clinker architecture of Gustav Oelsner in Altona. As a contrast to the white-plastered architecture of Gdynia, it provided an interesting background for the comparison of two different faces of modernism. The most important feature of the aesthetics of modernism was its cosmopolitan character, which also determined the use of its mainstream name: “International Style.” Paradoxically, modernism aesthetically played a different role as it led to the manifestation of ideas sometimes related to really local, symbolic and political meaning. This fact illustrates the complexity of the époque called “Modernism” in general. There are many similarities between Gdynia and Altona. Both have grown close beside historically important cities (and harbours), i.e. Gdansk and Hamburg. In spite of their recognised independence as Free Cities, Gdansk and Hamburg were strongly related to Germany both politically and economically and hence to the northern German tradition of brick architecture. Gdynia and Altona tried to compete with their bigger neighbours, not only on economic grounds, but also in terms of architectural identity. Altona owes its modernistic image to the activity of Gustav Oelsner. The uniqueness of the architectural expression that combined multicoloured, horizontally articulated clinker façades with simple modernistic forms illustrates the international and social ideas of Oelsner’s work. This was in clear opposition to Fritz Hoeger’s brick expressionist architecture with its verticality, steep roofs and symbolism traced from the medieval German tradition. Nevertheless, these two different aesthetics with deep ideological content had occurred within the same period of Modernism. The city of Gdynia was built in the 1920s and 30s and gained its image by the use of clearly distinguishable materials as unlike as plaster, which was clearly opposite to the brick façades of Gdansk architecture. It was a manifestation of political and economic independence. It is interesting to note that the International Style was chosen by architects of Gdynia to qualify the political identity of the newly arising Polish city. Thus the International Style and its “white” aesthetics seemed to be the most appropriate declaration of locality and nationality.
Bartosz Macikowski. (2016). CONTRASTING MODERNISMS - ARCHITECTURE OF HARBOUR CITIES GDYNIA AND ALTONA, (Book 4), 205-212. https://doi.org/10.5593/sgemsocial2016hb42
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